December 30, 2014

The scientist and the minister

Comment on Lars Syll on  'Mainstream macroeconomics distorts our understanding of economic reality'

“At one point in that 100 years, Lord Ernest Rutherford was visited by a minister of the Queen. He proudly and busily demonstrated what he had learned about radio. The minister said, that’s all very good, but what is it good for. Lord Rutherford replied that he did not know, but he guaranteed that at some point the government would tax it.” URL

It is obvious from the story that Rutherford did his research without some practical purpose in mind; and that he was very satisfied that he had solved a problem that was no problem at all for anybody else.

Rutherford did not claim that he had done anything useful like saving humanity, or pulling the world back from the verge of self-destruction, or making the world a better place, or promoting the pursuit of happiness, or maximizing overall utility.

True science is distinctively the study of useless things. For the useful things will get studied without the aid of scientific men. To employ these rare minds on such work is like running a steam engine by burning diamonds.” (Peirce, 1931, 1.76)

If economists could produce a little piece of scientific truth this would be a wonderful thing and perfectly sufficient. Alternatively, they could leave science behind and change the world. For this, no economic theory is needed. It is the intermixture of science and politics that is unacceptable.

To start an argument by telling the audience that the world is on the verge of self-destruction is perfectly legitimate in a political debate but counterproductive in a discussion about macroeconomic theory.

Agenda pushers of all colors, stop attempting to hijack scientific discussions! Theoretical economics is politically useless.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

Peirce, C. S. (1931). Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, volume I. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. URL